Sunday, February 8, 2009

Survival in the Bush - Bark Canoe

Another fantastic film on the National Film Board of Canada's free site is Survival in the Bush, a 30 minute short filmed in 1954 as a sort of precursor to today's hitshow Survivorman.

The producer, Bob Anderson and an Algonquin guide (plus a camera man) are left in the wilds of Northern Quebec for three weeks, purposely soaked to the neck in cold water with an axe as the only permitted survival tool. In the process, the fantastic Algonquin guide by the name of Angus Baptiste manages to make fire with a split jackpine fireboard, assemble a birchbark lean-to for shelter, catch some sturgeon with a spear and his bare hands, build a successful bear trap (warning...dead bear footage for those who are queezy), and to top it all off, make a birch bark canoe for the three men to paddle out on.

Unfortunately, most of the detailed work documenting the canoe is not shown but here are some stills of the fantastic craft - completed with winter bark decorative etchings.

Bark staked out

Ready for gumming

Portaging down to the water

Paddling away

If you can get past the typical western-centric narrative of the producer as well as some of the scripted dialogue, there are some gems of info in this short film. Typical for the times however, Angus Baptiste, the Algonquin guide who really does all the work isn't even listed with the credits at the end.


Anonymous said...

Hi Murat,

I watched it but had some doubts as to the veracity of that part of the film. It seems they built a sweet canoe but all they were supposed to have on hand was an axe. Me thinks there might have been some license taken in this part of the story. Your thoughts.

Murat said...

I have my doubts as well. While it's indeed possible to do the bulk of the work with an axe alone(felling the trees, splitting out cedar gunwales etc.), the fine work like shaping ribs & mortising the thwarts would need a more precise tool...although sharpened bones could be used for awls and crude blades.

Furthermore, the bark was harvested in the summer so it wouldn't have the darkened pigment of winter bark for the decorative etching. For that matter, if the canoe was purely for survival purposes, why bother with the decorative winter bark etching in the first place? Definitely some creative license on the part of the editor.

By the way Wooden Canoe issue 119 has an article by Colin Shanley entitled, "Building a Traditional Birch Bark Canoe in the Wilderness...and Paddling Out". The author and his girlfriend were dropped off somewhere in the the Gaspe region of Quebec and built their boat in 5 weeks to paddle out on. Interesting stuff, although they used axes, saws, a froe, and other tools.

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